“The booing and jeering from the Government benches at Bercow was as bad as I have ever known it,” a back bencher said. “And when Therese Coffey wished him and his family a happy Christmas, that got booed as well.”
It was quite a scene. When John McDonnell called the Prime Minister a liar – or was it “Lies! Lies! All lies!” as another witness had it – the Tories started to chant the only really offensive word in his Speaker’s lexicon. The word is “Order.”
“Order! Order!” they shouted. “ORDER!”
The English translation is: “You dirty, rotten, cheating, twisted little berk – you’ve ratted on all your colleagues, you’ve connived and conspired against one side of the House and sucked up to the other, you bend, bribe and bully decent people with your gifts and positions and quid pro quos, you’ve used the highest position in Parliament to puff your pompous little personality out of its skin, your language is ridiculous, your snobbery is disgusting, your megalomania is obvious, your taut, fake smile is completely unconvincing, and you do not deserve our respectful goodwill a moment longer!”
Labour’s John McDonnell had asked a colourful question about the Heathrow extension which would result in them having to demolish schools and hospitals and yes, “to dig up our dead”.
Cameron was dealing quite skilfully with his unequivocal “no ifs” undertaking not to rob the graves around Heathrow and McDonnell shouted out, let’s take the least unparliamentary version, “They were lies! Lies!”
The Tory storm began. Bercow leant forward and took advice from the Clerk.
Now, the Clerk of the House is a clerk in the same way a Secretary of State is a secretary.
Robert Rogers is a magnificent-looking individual with a proper spade of a royal beard, wonderfully-kept 18th century court dress, and a glittering, penetrating eye. Tonbridge and Lincoln College Oxford. A gentleman. Old school. The chief executive of the Palace of Westminster. The ultimate authority on parliamentary procedure.
And yet, and yet.
Last year, when Bercow collaborated with Chris Bryant to allow the word “Lied” to be used of Jeremy Hunt in the Commons, Bercow had to square the Clerk. He had to fix him. He couldn’t proceed with the Clerk’s acquiesence. I’m sorry to say, that the Clerk acquiesced. He declared the Speaker was correct.
In his book – the sort of work that people call “magisterial” – he says in plain black and white that Liar and its various forms is unparliamentary language. In his faith, one thing but in his works – ah! I’m choking up. You get the gist.
There we were again this afternoon with the words Liar or Lies being flung across the floor and Bercow leaning forward to take Roger’s advice. He leant back, stood up and said, “A reference was made to the treatment of constituents not to observations made in respect of Members of the House.”
What technical, legalistic, self-serving twaddle.
He’s sucking up the Tories just now, gums and tongue working double time, trying to retrieve his position with them. But had, in the happier days of his Ascendancy, had Simon Burns, or Tim Loughton, Anna Soubry, Patrick McLoughlin or Michael Gove yelled that across the floor Bercow would have fallen on them like a collapsing house.
But this, his Descendancy, is a fascinating narrative, for those with stomachs strong enough to watch.
It’s the recess. The New Year is a New Deal. And Bercow’s grease gun is loaded with inexhaustible lubricants. He will need all the darker arts to bring the situation back his way. Let’s see how he tries.